Nearly 9 months since England was told to ‘stay home’ as the Government announced a national lockdown, and here we are again. As winter approaches and the uncertainty of COVID-19 continues to impact those without a safe, or any, home, we look back at how the pandemic impacts people experiencing homelessness.
At Groundswell our work centres on participation – because we believe people have the right to be involved in decisions that affect their lives. That’s why between April and August this year we spoke to hundreds of people experiencing homelessness and those supporting them, to highlight the experiences, challenges, barriers and opportunities to hear how COVID-19 and the responses to it, were affecting their lives. As the pandemic continues to dictate our society and services, we wanted to highlight key insights that should be considered so people experiencing homelessness are not further disadvantaged by the pandemic:
- Barriers to prevention. Prevention measures such social distancing and social isolation are difficult to adhere to when someone is homeless. People did not always have access to items such as face masks.
- Impact on mental well-being. Many people who are homeless already suffer from poor mental well-being and the preventative measures had a negative impact on this.
- Appointments being cancelled or delivered in new ways. We heard from many people that their appointments for mental or physical health were cancelled or amended to online when they didn’t have the facilities; in some cases this led to other health problems deteriorating.
- Accommodation not being COVID safe. People, particularly those in shared accommodation such as hostels, felt uncertain that the correct safety measures were in place.
- Digital divide. Services, information and socialising moved online and for many was not accessible due to literacy, lack of access to technology or limited skills in this area.
- Access to food. It was reported that many people struggled to access nutritional and/or appropriate food (e.g. given food that required cooking but had no oven) – leading to further health issues.
We ask services, charities, commissioners, Local Authorities, councils and anyone involved in supporting people experiencing homelessness during this pandemic to consider this insight when planning their response. Ask yourself questions based on the highlighted issues; for example: ‘can people socially isolate if they have symptoms in this accommodation?’, ‘can they still get food’, ‘is it safe for this clinically vulnerable person to get the bus to the pharmacy’?. We worked with Crisis and Pathways to help your local response planning by creating a self-assessment toolkit which considers people experiencing homelessness at the core of the response; take a look here.
We’re continuing to listen
The pandemic is far from over and neither is our research. As we enter the winter months and enter into another national lockdown, it is vital that we continue to understand how people experiencing homelessness are impacted by the pandemic so they are not forgotten in the response.
We’d like to talk to people experiencing homelessness across the country about their experiences. If you, or someone you support, would be happy to give an anonymous telephone interview about your experience of homelessness at this time please get in touch with Research Officer Mat Amp: 07595602324 or [email protected] You will receive a £10 voucher as a thank you for your time. This insight will be used to shape how NHS England and other bodies respond to the pandemic for people who are homeless.